East London: The UK’s Canvas

August 25, 2013 3:54 pm


I’ve lived in East London for all of my life. It is a place that is in constant transition, filled with a huge number of people from different backgrounds, cultures and countries. The area has been known throughout history as a slum, a place rife with crime and a place for new immigrants to live. It is famous as a place rich with Jewish heritage, famous for gangsters such as the Krays, and the very real horror story of Jack the Ripper. But under yet another transition, the area has reinvented itself as the cultural heart of London. Filled with artists, writers, filmmakers, photographers and all manner of other creative types, Bethnal Green and Shoreditch are now buzzing with the young and hip from all over the world. Spitalfields, Broadway, Columbia Road and Brick Lane markets are the place to be on the weekend and the vast number of restaurants and bars mean you could go out every day for months on end and not see the same place twice.


Along with the rise in vintage shops, art galleries and new designers, there has been a huge rise in street art. There was always graffiti; the usual street gang’s ‘tags’ and hastily sprayed profanities that come with poorer urban areas, but now the entire area has become one blank canvas for street artists everywhere. The street art in East London is among the most impressive in the world. Of course nothing can come close to the East Side Gallery in Berlin, but London’s outdoor artworks are definitely worth seeing. Street art tours have sprung up to offer tourists to London alternative tours and the streets are filled with the curious and art-loving masses.

The art you see on the walls of shops, houses, on bridges and on the pavements isn’t what you’d see in a gallery, even the most modern of galleries. It is a more raw, more political and sarcastic form of art. Many use street art to make political statements, others use it simply to amuse. Each piece of art is distinctive from the last and it is easy to see which artwork is attributed to which artist. Some of the street art I have seen outside of London. Such as the colourful owls created by Dscreet that I couldn’t walk anywhere without seeing a couple of years ago. There are still a few around if you have a look. When I was in Berlin earlier this year I saw them everywhere too. There are many street artists that can be seen in other cities known for graffiti including Berlin and New York. One of the most famous street artists of all time (Banksy of course) honoured Bethnal Green with an artwork that is still there today.

So whether you live in London or are on a visit, don’t miss out on a visit to the East End. You won’t be disappointed with the abundance of art on offer just while you are walking along the street. It’s not just on the walls, but on the pavements, in the roads and high above your head. The one thing that street art has taught me is to open my eyes.

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